Kishore Chakraborti
Guest Article

Guest Article: Kishore Chakraborti: The politics of advertisement

In advertising, the passing on of secrets is the centre piece of diplomacy.

The world of advertising is the world of politics and conspiracy. Brands and consumers engage in a private dialogue in the public domain. The agenda of secrecy is based on the politics of taking consumers into confidence as against the world. The passing on of some secret is central to this politics. It is strange that the notion of secrecy which has played a pivotal role in a major body of Western literature has found such a cozy haven in the world of advertising across brands and categories.

Guest Article: Kishore Chakraborti: The politics of advertisement
There is, of course, a fundamental difference between the high culture where the characters are defined by people who seem to know some secrets, and who, for some reason or the other, fail or refuse to disclose them; the audience, along with the storyteller, is the only other all-knowing entity of the plot, and the tension is built around this interaction of the known and the unknown.

In advertising, the passing on of secrets is the centre piece of diplomacy and through these politics, year after year, brands work out a gripping drama of commercial communication and persuasion. Silver screen heroines have whispered their beauty secrets from bathtubs. From donkey's milk to Dove, from Draupadi to Dadima, all spin very convincing beauty yarns for the young and impressionable. The secrets of advertising are so democratic that it is not somebody's selfish trade mark. It is waiting to be everyone's unique formula. If Madhuri Dixit's secret is mesmerising, the testimonial of the next door imperfect girl is equally important and treasured. Dove has glorified the imperfect, normal woman for quite some time now.

The politics of sharing secrets can, sometimes, be as elaborate as the slimming odyssey of telemarketing where incredibly obese Western men and women share, in monotonous, dubbed Hindi, how they have restored their slim selves from the voluminous piles of flab by a five-minute-a-day miracle, crunching, gyrating, or moving like a pendulum on some funny mechanical contraption. People showcase their tent like pre-slim outfits with their slim-fit current wear to dramatise the secret of slimming. A suitably impressed peer group whistles and claps at this victorious fight against flab. Before you recover from the shock of this revelation, Lara Dutta reveals her secret of slimming in the breakfast cereal ad: "I eat", she whispers.

There is no respite, there is no escape, and honestly, who is really trying to escape? All secret dialogues, all ads preach jaruri hain yaar. You cannot ignore them. The politics behind these sermons and communications is gives complete assurance to relax. Brands and products talk like friends to reassure. Tension maat le, main hoon na. No problem is big, no barrier is insurmountable. Solutions are really available chutki mein; be it a body ache, or the yellow stain on the clothes, or blackheads on the tip of your nose, or crowbars under the eyes. Life always triggers its shocks, and consumers are such slow reactors that the brands have to take charge, so that zor ka jatka dhire se laage. Get on with your life with a cold drink, or with your favourite BRU.

With the passage of time, the politics of ads have started encompassing our life from all angles. Bournvita's politics is to make milk look inactive until the brand activates it through its calcium and Vitamin D power. Cadbury chocolates are busy in lifelong politics to grab the cultural power centre of meetha. Suddenly, mothers look like such losers in the kitchen! Coke has already played its game and replaced Thanda paani with the matlab of Coca-Cola. Cadbury éclairs conspires with the lady shopper to get rid of the over-enthusiastic salesman in a recent advertisement. There is no overt ritual to pass on the secret like the good old days. People, product, politics, and preaching are seamlessly merged into a conspiracy of consumerism.

The more products/brands come up with offerings that challenge traditional perceptions, the more subtle becomes the play of politics in ads. For instance, diapers fight a traditional perception in society that nappies are not good for children; the perception is so strong that the young and modern mothers who pack their children in diapers are looked down upon as lazy and irresponsible by the traditional homemakers. What selfish mothers to pack their children in excreta just to avoid the drudgery of changing baby's nappy -- that's the unspoken dialogue spouted by the so-called mom-in-law.

The task for a children's diaper maker is not just to remove the doubts of traditional guardians that diapers are good, but also to convince them that their young bahus are not irresponsible; they are more intelligent and sensible. Ultimately, it is the new-age mothers who will ensure the use of diapers in their homes.

The Pampers diaper ad is a well-crafted one. A worried, young mother opens the door to usher in an elderly lady doctor to treat her baby with high fever. The doctor identifies wet nappies as the cause of chest infection in the baby. The young mother asserts that like a dutiful traditional mother, she gets up repeatedly at night to change wet nappies. The doctor says that even the slightest delay can cause infection and advises that nappies are not a good idea for baby care at night. Pampers absorbs and locks liquid, and is therefore, more scientific and a logical solution to avoid infection from wet nappies. The diaper's case was well-argued, as was the case of the choice of diapers by modern housewives.

It is interesting that an elderly doctor talks against the traditional practice of her own generation, and makes the use of Pampers generation neutral. If the younger generation ask for Pampers, it should be accepted as a better and improved solution to a childcare problem. The child will have a good night's sleep, and so will the mother, and the brand. Politics well played!

(The author is vice-president, consumer insight and HFD, McCann Erickson India)